We haven't blogged much on the V-22 Osprey program, even though it's a program that the Pentagon is ostensibly threatening with the budgetary scalpel. Relatively little attention has been paid in the media to this program when compared to the many thousands of words expended on the F/A-22 and C-130J systems online and in print. So here's what shall hopefully become the first semi-regular blog on this expensive deathtrap.
The Osprey still has no defensive gun system. This is a serious flaw for a troop transport craft meant to take our soldiers into the thick of battle. Without a gun, the V-22 can't suppress ground fire. So all the hype about the tilt-rotor being less vulnerable because it can “fly like airplane” is mostly meaningless since it still has to transition to a helicopter and fly low and slow to do its core mission. Fact: Most helicopters are shot-down in combat landing zones. Our combat helicopters with guns are downed by ground fire often enough as it is, imagine what would happen if we replace armed helicopters with the Osprey.
Putting guns on the Osprey is so difficult because of inherent problems in the craft's design. Traditional helicopter designs have their rotor blades on top. This makes placement of a gun on the sides of the helicopter easy. However, the Osprey has its engines on its sides, in the way of fire directed from the sides of the craft. Also, guns can't be mounted on the sides of the Osprey because the nacelles rotate from the vertical to horizontal position. A gun turret mounted on the bottom is a possibility, but is troublesome because it would require redesign of Osprey's undercarriage (costing more to develop) and also poses weight problems. Increasing the V-22's weight means lower performance such as speed, cargo and lift capacity, and reduced maximum range without refueling.
By the way, in 1992, then-Defense Secretary Cheney said, “You've [Congress] directed me to buy the V-22, a program I don't need. My problem with the program's always been primarily one of affordability.“ The estimated cost of the program has shot up from about $30 billion for 913 aircraft in 1986 to $48 billion for 458 aircraft in 2004. The price per copy cost has gone from around $32 million in 1986 to $105 million a copy in 2004 [all amounts in 2004 inflation-adjusted dollars, information from the September 2004 Defense Department Selected Acquisition Report].